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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.

Thanks,
Mike

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Struggling to hold students accountable for reading?

Addressing the toxic culture of non-reading

I have a well-developed classroom library and I emphasize student-selected reading in my classes at all levels, from level 1 through to the heritage learner classes that I teach. I consider myself to be a “krashenista who lives in the real world“, that is, an educator who takes Krashen’s hypothesis’ seriously but also recognizes the role of the classroom teacher to massage those insights about second language acquisition so that they work in our reality. To be clear, Krashen isn’t a brainstem floating in another dimension; his ideas have already been extensively class-tested and you can follow this link to read a summary of the research-based suggestions for setting up a classroom reading program. What I am concerned with here, however, is what I think most teachers seeking to build an independent reading program are struggling with: how to transition students from a punitive compliance approach to reading that is common in many classrooms so that they embrace a pleasure-based approach advocated by Krashen in our classrooms?

A student who has learned to play the game in all of their other classes has been trained to approach reading as a task to undermine. Teachers respond by finding ways to ensure reading compliance such as quizzes, reading guides, writing assignments and random (humiliating) in-class comprehension questions. Our students are immersed in a punitive reading culture that rouses their counterwill; is it any wonder that they huddle before class discussing the reading with the one kid who actually did it, that they send text messages to students in other sections about “surprise quizzes”, that they copy answers to reading guides in the hallways during morning break and that they despise the astute teachers who manage to “play the game well”? Undermining the teacher’s attempts to enforce reading compliance is the game and, I think, one of the reasons adolescents report that they hate reading. The so-called good students may read due to an external motivator (grades, desire to impress an adult), but research on external motivators indicates that external motivators decrease internal motivation. That is to say, reading compliance assignments are unlikely to motivate compliant or non-compliant students to become lifelong readers.

By setting up a pleasure reading program, we krashenistas are attempting to step outside of this game, coaxing students to abandon what is truly a non-reading culture and nudging them to discover a home-run book… the kind of reading experience that is so satisfying that it opens a new world. How naive we must seem to those calculating students who have spent their lives perfecting the game! How silly we must seem! How easy to fool!

When I start my pleasure reading program, I very briefly describe in L1 why we are spending 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class on independent reading (I often use the quotes from the back of my good reading book marks, a free download). I have several browsing strategies to get multiple books in their hands in the first few days before they commit to any book. Students are allowed to change books until they find one that “is not too bad”, they are always allowed to abandon a book, and they are never quizzed on their independent reading. I demand a silent room while we read, and then I sit with them and read. Afterwards we sometimes spend a brief moment talking about our books in L1 in small groups (this is both a documented way to add pleasure to the reading process as well as a browsing strategy) and I often do comprehensible L2 book talks describing a favorite scene from books in the classroom library (another browsing strategy).

Krashen states that studies have shown that very few students are merely staring into space with glazed eyes during reading period, yet for us classroom teachers it is a subject of heated discussion. Are they really reading? What can we do to make sure? That kid certainly is not reading. The handful who I know are not reading define the entire class in my mind, and it frustrates me. My heritage learners in particular, the ones who gain most from easy pleasure reading, seem to be among the best at faking it unless they think there is going to be real accountability. I need to perfect this bridge between our current reality of the game and that wonderful future when each student has discovered a home-run book. My role as a teacher is to connect students with a home-run book so that they become readers. My instincts and my training as a teacher, however, constantly intrude and push me towards reading compliance measures. I am aware of what is happening in my classroom… I am actually pretty good at the game. But winning the game is counter-productive; I need to short-circuit the logic of the game.

This is what I would like to propose here: (1) teaching a student to read is different from (2) leading a student to love reading. (1) Developing reading skills is different from (2) developing a love of reading. Educators must be very clear that (1) does not lead to (2). The first can be done through brute force such as assigning reading journals, essays, comprehension quizzes, “minimally intrusive” post-reading paragraphs, graphic organizers, rubrics designed to encourage students to reflect on either the reading or the act of reading, assigned discussions in pairs after reading or assigned book talks. The second, however, can only be accomplished through the path of pleasure. If a post-reading discussion is pleasurable, if writing a reaction to a book is pleasurable (for instance, doing so voluntarily on Goodreads.com) or reading about other students reactions to the reading is pleasurable, then the activity will contribute to the greater goal of developing love of reading. If it is not pleasurable, then it plays into the dynamic of the game.

How, then, can we successfully confront the toxic culture of non-reading which is expressed by the game? I have an idea, and this once again comes straight from a conference talk given by Krashen. At NTPRS 2015 Dr. K spoke about the process of becoming a reader and he observed that, before pleasure reading, almost all lifelong readers were read to. I am not talking about being forced to read aloud in class or having the teacher read a boring text aloud. I am talking about an essential kindergarten reading activity that is fun and should not have been dropped neither in middle school nor even in high school. That is to say, readers tend to have had parents or older siblings who read pleasure reading texts to them. Being read to is not the only step to transform a person into a reader (they will then need access to highly-compelling reading), but most readers report that they were once read to. I suspect that most of our students have not had enough experience being read to in pleasurable, read-aloud settings. Here is the key idea in this entire essay: I wonder what would happen if teachers rewired their brains so that, when we witness a non-compliant student during silent reading period, we reacted differently. Rather than reach for a reading compliance strategy, what if we were to think to ourselves, “I have got to do more read-alouds”? I am suggesting that not only would more pleasurable read-alouds move the student further down the road towards becoming a reader, but we would also short-circuit the logic of the game. In the short run I will sit next to that student, engage in a conversation about reading, try to find a better book for him, try to make a connection during a read-aloud, but what I will not do is allow my frustration to perpetuate the dynamic of the game. That is a win/win for all of my students, especially the ones that are actually finding good books and are beginning to think that maybe this class is different…

Jen Schongalla told me about one of her nephews who described the FVR program in his elementary school. He said to her:

All the free reading books were labeled with colored stickers according to the level. I would pick a book, open it at my desk and just sit and think. I’d look around to see what level everyone was on, pick books that were 1-2 levels higher and just sit there. I never read during free reading until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. Then I was hooked and read the whole series. Around 5th grade they evaluated our reading level and I was told I was reading at a college level.

What strikes me about his recollection is what we can infer to be in the background: a patient teacher who was working hard to connect a non-compliant kid with his home run book.

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Recipe for a fantastic year

Pre-planned targets, emergent targets, Light-circling, heavy-circling and not targeting at all: they all have their place in a level 1 classroom

A few years ago, when all of my stories had targets, we created a fun class story called Frankie el mentiroso. You can see the original lesson here. Looking at that post helps me see how far I have come in these past years. This is a story that I created with a Spanish 3 class. This year, about seven months into Spanish 1, my students are just sitting back and enjoying hearing this story.

Back in those days I targeted obsessively, mistakenly believing that students acquire what I target and mostly do not acquire what I do not target. I must have been confused if I had read Stephen Krashen´s suggestion that most of what we acquire is almost certainly non-targeted input. I was too close to the grammar syllabus that I was in the process of rejecting to be able to recognize that a vocabulary syllabus is just as absurd.

My experiences this year working mostly with emergent targets has flipped everything on its head. While before I would carefully lay a foundation of essential structures, this year working mostly with One Word Images (OWIs) throughout the first semester has ironically led to a stronger foundation due to incredible student interest generated by the process. Here is my recipe for an awesome year:

(1) I started the year with student interviews and quickly getting students familiar with the third person of the Super 7 verbs. I purposely chose interview questions that featured these highest of high-frequency verbs. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually used this power point with the interview questions in both Spanish (large letters) and English (small letters). During August kids would just turn around and read the question I asked… until they did not need to. It happened naturally while we were busy paying attention to their answers.

(2) Early in the semester I taught my students the process of creating OWIs. We made them twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. These might take 20 minutes each time; the rest of the time was used on interviews (one student could easily take another 20 minutes) and other CI activities. OWIs are definitely the WOW! activity that I incorporated into my teaching this year, and I am not the only one enamored with this powerful technique. Take a look at one of Cameron Taylor´s blog posts about using OWIs with his daughter. Important: we ended each class with a short Write & Discuss activity to summarize what happened in class that day and then added that writing to an FVR binder.

(3) Very quickly kids wanted to start expanding their OWIs into stories, which we did on Tuesdays and Fridays. Both OWIs and the narrative vignettes that emerged on the following day depended heavily on the Super 7 verbs, but there was also a lot of emergent structures. When, for example, students wanted a fountain from which blue chocolate flows, I needed to slowly circle the new information (una fuente de que salía chocolate azul… notice how I carefully simplified the language). Here you can see a story they made in early September (a month into the school year) about that fountain; if this had been a pre-planned class story the story would have been a hopeless failure. Look at how complicated it is! But this OWI turned class story was THEIR story unlike any TPRS story I have ever worked with before. It is fascinating how powerful the OWI technique is.

(4) By mid-October I was occasionally sprinkling in a pre-planned target structure. Mostly this was by “asking” one of the stories that I have used before. In the past I prefaced these targeted lessons with a lot of PQA; this year I would just work with the main text in one single class period. If the lesson required more than one period then I put it off and waited until later, when we could finish the targeted lesson in one period. Here is an example of a “one class” targeted story that we did to focus on the word ningún. The first power point took most of one whole class. We then read the additional story “Panqueques” about two weeks later, and that was also completed in one class period.

(5) But I was also telling completely non-targeted stories via the Story Listening technique, as you can see in this lesson.

(6) We also started watching El Internado in January using an emergent approach. No way I am going to pre-teach all of those structures!! Instead I look at each scene and ask myself, “What do the characters want?” That question is enough to simplify the tv show to make it comprehensible to my students… no need to doddle translating all of that dialogue!!

(7) A tremendous amount of reading is essential, starting in the first semester with class-created texts being added to the FVR binders every day. By September I was doing short, simple book talks (mostly on Wednesdays) about the books in my FVR library that they would eventually start reading independently. By January we started FVR for the first 5-10 minutes of class… students who do not feel confident reading from the TPRS books pick up the FVR binders that we created during first semester and reread texts that we created together.

Watch the video below and look at how easily students are interacting with a story that I originally created for a level three class. As I watch this, I can recognize that there is no such thing as “hard structures”. After telling them the story in a story listening style presentation, students read a copy of the story on their own. Afterwards I quickly read the story aloud, clarifying any remaining doubts. By slowly exposing them to (a) a lot of non-targeted/emergent-targeted input as well as (b) a well-curated foundation of targeted high frequency input, my students are all superstars.

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My favorite blog post that I wrote in 2013

Here is my favorite post that I wrote in 2013. I had not been blogging for very long, so perhaps you haven´t seen it yet…  

yougetoutwhatyouputinIt is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but  HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.

(note added in December, 2013: you can see the entire whale lesson that Kylnn was writing about by clicking HERE )

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A brief tour of my TPRS classroom

This is not the model classroom laden with tech toys, nor is it even my ideal classroom… but it is getting closer every year. These are some of my favorite design tweaks, and how it helps me teach:
groups
No desks. Chairs only, with tables on the outside for students to place their backpacks (and cell phones). Students come in and take out a notebook and pen, copy down the three structures of the day that are on the board, and then put their notebooks under their chair. I have to fit forty students into a classroom designed for twenty-eight; it was necessity that first led me to remove desks just to free up space. But now that I’ve done it, I would never go back! On the days that my AP students complete a formal essay I reserve the library. But writing is not the backbone of any TPRS class; listening and reading in class develop speaking and writing skills. They can place their notebooks on their laps as they write during the last ten minutes of class.

I also place the chairs in groups to facilitate TPR, naming groups after countries. I learned this from Jason Fritze. Once the whole class responds to ¡Levántense! and ¡Miren! then it’s time to start switching it up and say ¡España, levántense. Miren a México!. It keeps them in their toes.

chairs
Inspired by something I once read about Bryce Hedstrom’s classes: the back of the seats of the front row all have exclamations that I encourage them to use in class, so that not only do I get the ohhhhh’s but also a ¡Claro que sí!. Sometimes this can be really amusing.

library
Free reading library; there are duplicates but none of these books are “required” in the sense that we talk about them in class. Instead they are used for sustained silent reading. Some of the books, like Donde viven los monstruos, are chosen to appeal to non-heritage speakers with very little reading ability in Spanish. Right now I have about 70 books, but I’m building this library to be a more important part of my classes, in every level. The little shelfs are made of cardboard and paper stapled to the wall… very cheap but took some time during the summer to figure it out and then put it together.

lights

Changing the lights from industrial office park lights to soft, friendly lamps has a surprising impact on the mood of the class. These are perfect for telling class stories.

word walls

My word wall focuses on the main sixteen irregular verbs that are used over and over again in conversation. Simply pointing to the correct verb with a laser pointer while telling a story, or asking a question, is amazingly effective. Terry Waltz has refined this list to 7 verbs which she teaches (in Mandarin) within the first two or so hours of class. The English will be removed once these verbs are internalized. I have the same verbs in the infinitive form posted along the front of the classroom.

slow

The only poster in English is a reminder for me to SLOW DOWN. I refer to it often in class to emphasize that when they do not understand me then it’s my fault, not theirs.

question words

Question words are posted in the most central place in class, right above where I often stand. I will tape the English to the bottom for the first few weeks of class to make sure these are thoroughly acquired. You can also see some of the animal puppets I have velcro-ed to the wall. They are good conversation partners and some even develop their own personalities, depending upon the class story.

a clear space
Essential bookcase in the back of the room where I always place the paper that I need. You’ll notice a syllabus is already there, because otherwise I’ll lose it! The planning calendar is to keep track of when my AP kids will be giving a presentation… by September we are on a schedule where two people are giving two minute presentations every day. If I did not have this calendar I would forget.

tarea box, si or no

The Sí sign velcro-ed to the front board has a red back that says no. Hold up red when ask a question. Wait. Wait. Flip it to sí and everyone answers at the same time.

tarea box

The tarea box is another organizational tweak that has saved my life. I would never remember to collect homework if it weren’t for the rule that homework has to already be in the box before the last bell rings.

First day of school is tomorrow… looking forward to it!

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You get out what you put in

yougetoutwhatyouputin It is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.